Leave the World Behind author explains film’s controversial ending

New Netflix thriller is based on Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name

Tom Murray
Wednesday 20 December 2023 04:56 GMT
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Leave The World Behind trailer

Warning – Major spoilers ahead for Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind, Netflix’s new disaster thriller directed by Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail, ends on a highly ambiguous note.

The film – an adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel – follows Amanda and Clay Sandford, played by Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke, who take their two children Rose and Archie (Farrah Mackenzie and Charlie Evans) on a weekend getaway to Long Island, New York.

While there, the owner of their luxurious rental home, GH Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la Herrold) return to the property under mysterious circumstances, claiming that a calamitous event has rocked the city.

The two families are forced to cohabit in the house as society quickly unravels after technological infrastructure, from phones to TVs, starts to collapse.

While there are various ideas put forward about the root of this catastrophe – Russia, Iraq and North Korea are each put forward – the film never reveals the aggressor or if there even is one.

It ends with Rose watching Friends alone in the basement bunker of one of their Long Island neighbour’s home. The enigmatic conclusion to the film has drawn criticism from some viewers who complained it was “too abrupt”.

Ethan Hawke as Clay and Julia Roberts as Amanda in ‘Leave the World Behind’

The film’s ending is a departure from Alam’s novel, which finishes with Rose gathering supplies from the house before presumably returning to her family.

In a new interview with Variety, the author, who also serves as an executive producer on the film, addressed Esmail’s ending, calling it “so satisfying”.

“To end with the particular jolt of humor that [Esmail] does is so satisfying and so rewarding,” he said. “It’s sort of self-reflective because he’s a filmmaker. He’s also worked in television, and he’s sort of asserting something about the power of that medium, and its hold over this one character.

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“I say it’s funny, but I don’t think it’s a joke. I don’t think it’s a joke on Rose. I don’t think it’s a joke on the audience. I don’t think it’s a joke on Friends. It’s a reminder that art is kind of a salve. The theatrical experience of watching this movie is so powerful because I’ve had the chance to see audiences respond to the ending three times now, and nobody really knows what to make of it. They’re like, is this funny? Is this scary? Is it really over? And I love that so much.”

Mahershala Ali, left, and Julia Roberts in ‘Leave the World Behind’

Asked why it was important not to give viewers closure at the end of the movie, Alam responded: “Wouldn’t that be so dissatisfying? It’s a film that respects you as a viewer enough to not provide that. In that final scene between Julia and Myha’la, they don’t embrace. Even prior to that, when they’re in that little shed and come to a détente, Ruth acknowledges that there’s some truth to the things that Amanda has said, that they’re in agreement about something, but it doesn’t end with a hug. It’s not that kind of story.

“I have no problem with like a big disaster movie that saves the six or eight principals and reunites them in the aftermath of a disaster and allows you to be like, ‘Well, everything’s gonna be okay.’ I just don’t think this is that kind of film.”

In her four-star review for The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey wrote: “Esmail goes big and bold with his Hitchcock allusions and showy camera work... Yet nothing quite shows Esmail’s hand more than Rose’s chemical-like reliance on Friends, a show which Ruth describes as ‘nostalgic for a time that never existed’. Yes, it’s ironic that the series is currently available on Netflix – but that’s exactly the kind of thoroughly modern hypocrisy Leave the World Behind revels in.”

While the film has quickly risen to the No 1 spot on Netflix, it currently has an audience score of just 42 per cent on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with viewers lodging similar complaints.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk is being lampooned over his complaint about a Tesla “inaccuracy” featured in the film.

Leave the World Behind is available to stream on Netflix now.

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